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How Missouri State football coach Ryan Beard is approaching Conference USA, FBS jump

Wyatt D. Wheeler
Springfield News-Leader

Missouri State football coach Ryan Beard expressed excitement for the Bears' transition to Conference USA while acknowledging that the road to being competitive at the FBS level will come with challenges.

Beard, in a Zoom interview while on a recruiting trip in Ohio, said he's begun pitching recruits the opportunity to play football at "the highest level" when the football program begins CUSA play in 2025.

"This is an interesting time in college sports and we chose to go on the offensive and make a great move for Missouri State," Beard said. "Everyone in our organization is excited to get that rolling."

Beard, entering his second season, will be tasked with leading the Bears through a two-year transitional period that will disqualify Missouri State from the FCS Playoffs for the 2024 season and make it ineligible for a bowl game in 2025.

Beard will soon be given 22 scholarships to fill to meet FBS roster size standards, although he's unaware of the timeline in which he'll be able to use them. Further conversations will be needed with Missouri State athletics director Kyle Moats upon returning to Springfield.

More:Missouri State says it’s ‘time to think big and be bold’ with leap to Conference USA

Missouri State head coach Ryan Beard as the Bears take on the University of Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in Lawrence Kansas on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.

While recruiting, Beard said he and his staff haven't done much to adjust who they're targeting. He believes his staff has developed a "decent eye" for talent and they've gone after higher-profile recruits and made them say "no." By doing so, he''s seen it help the Bears land players in future years if those players were to become available and have previous relationships with those on the staff. The biggest adjustment going forward might be that fewer of those players reject them.

In the meantime, Beard will have to sell recruits on the idea of being competitors and trying to win every game with no postseason reward. During his media availability session, his eyes lit up when he learned the Bears were still eligible to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference title this year.

"As a coach, that's probably the biggest thing we need to wrap our arms around and it starts with recruiting true competitors," Beard said. "You don't need a trophy to put up on the wall or somebody to pat you on the back and put you in the playoffs. Getting great film to play in the NFL, being in a place that loves you and cares about you and develops you the way you want to be developed and the ability to earn a meaningful degree are still at play."

Beard preached that Plaster Stadium needs upgrades while the university said it will begin with the first of several stages which includes new locker rooms and weight rooms. The second will be on the renovations to the west side bleachers and the third being an upgraded press box. He gave thanks to Missouri State's administration for making it happen in addition to local attorney Tom Strong who donated $5 million to aid the school in its transition with part of the money allocated toward the needed renovations.

More:Q&A with Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod: Why did CUSA add Missouri State?

Missouri State head coach Ryan Beard during the Bears win on the University of Northern Iowa Panthers at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

Those aren't new wishes for the Missouri State football program but it's something Conference USA expects to happen. Since Beard stepped on campus to be the defensive coordinator under his father-in-law, Bobby Petrino, in Jan. 2020, they've talked about several upgrades the school needed so it could be competitive in football.

With the changes Missouri State made to help Petrino-led teams be competitive and reach two postseasons, it's made Beard more confident in the school's ability to be successful at the next level.

"The administration has had our back and it doesn't happen like that everywhere," Beard said. "They're committed to change. This is Missouri State's chance to really get it right with FBS football. We can build it from the ground up. We can build it with facilities, academic support and all the things that top-level athletes need. We have a chance to do that right now and it's a fun time to be a part of it."

The coach acknowledged, coming off a 4-7 season, that he's had discussions about his contract that will likely be extended with a hefty raise. He's entering the second year of a four-year contract that pays him $275,000, the lowest number in the new league and behind at least one offensive coordinator.

More:How incoming Missouri State recruits reacted to school's move to Conference USA

Missouri State head coach Ryan Beard as the Bears take on the Murray State Racers at Plaster Field on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023.

Despite no possible playoff appearance, Missouri State has a roster that can be competitive before it departs the FCS and MVFC. The Bears return quarterback Jacob Clark who was on pace to break school records in passing before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. The Bears have a deep receiver room and a defense that is a year older after being an extremely young unit a year ago.

Beard said he believes an agreement will come at some point and there's no need to rush. He said his team still has a bad taste in its mouth after a 4-7 finish.

"I love Missouri State and I love Springfield," Beard said. "I believe the foundation is set to continue to grow every single day at Missouri State football. I hope that we can do this thing right and I can be here with my family for a long time and win a bunch of football games here in Springfield."